Coast

Coastal Wetlands Getting Swamped

By Charlie Rhodes

While wetlands may conjure up images of “swamp things,” in reality these unique ecosystems have many vital and fascinating characteristics.

For example, wetlands provide crucial food and habitat for wildlife.  Did you know that more than half of the fish caught for recreational or commercial purposes depend on wetlands at some point in their life cycles, as do 75 percent of our nation’s migratory birds?

Both saltwater (along the coastal shorelines) and freshwater (extending inland) wetlands occur in the coastal watersheds of the United States.

Wetland systems improve water quality and buffer coastal communities from erosion and flooding, while also providing recreational opportunities. A recent report Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watershed of the Continuous United States 2004-2009 summarized the status and trends of coastal watersheds. Frankly, much of the report compiled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wasn’t good news.

During the study period, wetlands suffered a net national decline of 360,720 acres (an area about the size of Los Angeles), and an average of 25 percent increased loss compared to the previous five years.  Our Atlantic Coasts saw a decline of 111,960 acres (larger than the city of Philadelphia).  Losses and degradation of wetlands in coastal watersheds can be directly traced to population growth, changes in water flow, and increased pollution.

Some of the reported impacts include:

  • The loss of an estimated that 7,360 acres of estuarine saltmarsh in the Atlantic coastal watersheds  – mainly due to erosion and inundation from rising sea levels along shorelines near Delaware Bay.
  • Forested freshwater wetlands declined by an estimated 405,740 acres.  Of these losses, 69,700 acres (44%) were attributed to silviculture, the practice of harvesting trees in many swamps.
  • Natural ponds declined by 16,400 acres (-3.9 percent), while detention or ornamental ponds increased by 55,700 acres (+19 percent).  While this would appear to indicate a net gain, the tradeoff is that natural ponds, which often interact with other natural environments and provide additional benefits, were being lost while isolated decorative ponds or sumps of limited ecological value were being created.

While reestablishing and creating wetlands can offset losses, this study also found that these strategies have not been as effective in coastal wetlands as in other types.  Challenges include costs, competing land use interests, and oversight limitations.

Wetland losses coupled with increasing frequency of extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy make the mid-Atlantic coasts increasingly vulnerable to coastal flooding and inundation.

But not all of the news is bad. Many great opportunities still exist for citizens, industry, government agencies, and others to work together to slow the rate of wetland loss and improve the quality of our remaining wetlands.  Learn more about what you can do to protect wetlands and about EPA’s wetland activities in the mid-Atlantic at the following:  http://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/protection.cfm; and http://www.epa.gov/reg3esd1/wetlands/ .

 

About the Author:  Charlie Rhodes is a wetland ecologist who has been with EPA since 1979.  He has worked nationally on wetlands in many capacities including impact assessment, delineation, and enforcement; and in many roles, including expert witness, instructor, and grant reviewer. 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Rivers, Coves, and Harbors by Rail

By Jennie Saxe

I love traveling by train. I commute to work by train and occasionally my family substitutes a train trip for a long car ride to avoid traffic and the confined space of our car (which somehow seems to shrink with each passing hour). Traveling by train also give you a unique perspective on the landscape – when you’re less concerned about the brake lights in front of you, you get a chance to really take in what’s around you.

View of the Connecticut coast from my train seat

View of the Connecticut coast from my train seat

One of the things that I was able to enjoy on a recent train trip to Boston was the amazing waterfront scenery along our route. However, on this journey – which began on the Christina River, continued across the Delaware River, glided all along the coves and harbors on Long Island Sound, and ultimately ended near Boston Harbor – I not only saw the beauty in nature, but also the many, varied connections we have with our waterways:

Recreation. Industry. Infrastructure. Homes. History.

These are just some of our links to the water. Waterways in the mid-Atlantic and in New England are rich in history and have been valued for their contributions to society for hundreds of years. Industry and agriculture depend on clean, reliable water supplies. Recreation on the water is an important element of our life and of livelihoods in the northeast. Much of our infrastructure and many communities are located near the water, a pattern established early in our nation’s history. The flip side: all of these activities also put stress on water quality and quantity. For a big-picture look at the strains on our water resources, as well as the importance of water to our economy, check out this interesting report from EPA.

Clearly, our coastal areas are vitally important to our economy and our way of life, but they are also some of the areas most vulnerable to rising sea levels associated with climate change. EPA’s climate change website chronicles some of the specific changes anticipated for the northeastern U.S. as well as some of the planning that communities in the northeast are doing to help them adapt to a changing climate. EPA also has drafted climate change adaptation implementation plans to ensure that we continue to fulfill our mission of protecting human health and the environment as we continue to adjust to a “new normal” in terms of our climate.

I’m not sure what changes I’ll see in our coastal areas on my next rail adventure, or on a train trip to New England 20 years from now. My kids will probably be the ones to notice changes during their lifetimes. I believe that when you feel connected to something, it instills in you a sense of stewardship and preservation. Every time we take this journey up the east coast, we’ll take some time to take off our earphones, put away the tablet, and just gaze out the window to appreciate our connections to the water resources in our region.

About the Author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA in 2003 and is currently a Water Policy Analyst in the Water Protection Division of EPA Region 3 in Philadelphia. When not in the office, Jennie enjoys spending time with her husband and 2 children, cheering for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, and – obviously – traveling by train.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Adapting to Sea Level Rise in Delaware: Your Chance to Engage in the Discussion

By Christina Catanese

 

Are you curious about how sea level rise will affect the beach towns you visit in the summer, and how coastal communities can adapt to these impacts?  If you’re in the Delaware area, you’ll have this opportunity in the coming weeks.

Impact of Sea Level Rise Scenarios on Mid Atlantic Coastal Wetland areas

Impact of Sea Level Rise Scenarios on Mid Atlantic Coastal Wetland areas

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources is holding a series of public engagement sessions to give residents a chance to hear more about Delaware’s vulnerability to sea level rise and adaptation strategies that the state can take.  DNREC invites the public to ask questions, discuss potential options, and provide feedback at these sessions.  There will be displays, presentations, and discussion – get a preview and more information on this page.

Yesterday’s session in Lewes, DE kicked off this series, but there are still two opportunities to attend:

February 19, 4-7 p.m.

New Castle Middle School

903 Delaware Street

New Castle, DE 19720

February 25, 4-7 p.m.

Kent County Levy Court

555 Bay Road (Rt. 113)

Dover, DE 19901

For more information on ecosystem impacts of climate change in the First State, you can also learn more about how the Delaware Estuary is preparing for climate change through the Climate Ready Estuaries program.

Not a Delaware resident?  You can still learn more about the Impacts of Sea Level Rise, other climate change science, and look out for similar opportunities where you live.  The impacts of climate change will vary by region – check out climate impacts in the Northeastern U.S. and in the Mid-Atlantic Region here.  What is your community doing to get ready?

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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